Key questions needing answers at U.S. Open

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As the 123rd championship commences today, Los Angeles Country Club is now ready for its Hollywood close-up. M. James Ward reviews the various topics of interest and what the outcomes for each will mean.
Posted on
June 15, 2023
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Los Angeles, CA. After the past several days filled with discussions on the future of men's professional golf, the third major championship of 2023 is underway with plenty of interest on a range of fronts.

Los Angeles returns as a host for the first time in 75 years. Los Angeles Country Club has two courses and the North Course will be front and center for all the golf world to see first-hand.

There are various topics of special interest and this year's championship will go a long way in providing clear answers in several different areas.


How will the North Course at LACC fare this week?

For the first time since 2017 when the U.S. Open was held at Erin Hills, a new and untested course will stage the championship of American golf. The architectural pedigree of the North Course at LACC is not in dispute.

The 1927 design from George Thomas is striking for the diversity of holes presented and the versatility the course possesses in being set-up in a range of different ways for the four rounds of competition.

Architect Gil Hanse, in concert with Jim Wagner and Geoff Shackelford, did a skillful job in bringing back to life the various features Thomas created.

While other events of note have been played on the North Course over the years this year's U.S. Open will be the most important event ever hosted by the club.

Did the USGA make the right call. This week will prove that.

(USGA/Bill Hornstein)

How will the USGA prepare the course for each round?

The USGA in its pre-championship news conference held Wednesday indicated satisfaction on all fronts regarding course preparation. The governing body indicated daily set-ups as intended to be played by Thomas.

Sanctity of par has been a prime consideration by the USGA for many previous Opens. In certain past events the USGA has pushed the boundary in pushing firm and fast conditions and the results have meant over-the-top outcomes in which players have voiced displeasure in having been made to look foolish when playing.

In 2018 the USGA added Nick Price, a three-time major champion, to its governing Executive Committee. The inclusion of a professional golfer on the board was a first for the association. Soliciting opinions from contestants was not always a priority with the USGA and the information presented has meant the most recent championships following the debacle at the 2018 event at Shinnecock Hills, have gone off very well.

The North Course has a great range of hole types and the versatility in how they can be played will be a prime consideration for the USGA in this year's event.

Can Brooks Koepka continue with his major mojo in the major events?

Since winning at Oak Hill last month and securing his 5th major title, Brook Koepka has kept a low profile and been a spectator at Miami Heat and Florida Panther playoff games. Securing his first major since 2019 has rejuvenated a player who only as recently as last year had serious questions on whether he would be able to return to world class form given the range of injuries encountered.

Koepka's capacity to raise his game when the toughest and most sought-after championships are played is well known to all those competing this week. A win at LACC this week would mean a 6th major and 3rd U.S. Open title respectively. It would also elevate Koepka further up the all-time golf ladder and tie him with Lee Trevino and Sir Nick Faldo.

(USGA/J.D. Cuban)

How will four native Californians -- Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Max Homa do on home turf?

Of the four, Schauffele has the best track record to date.

In five of the last six years, Schauffele has been in the top 7 and last year finished T-14 at The Country Club. The San Diego player has been consistently listed as the best player in the sport not to have won a major event. You can be sure Schauffele is looking to change that tagline this week.

Max Homa has the North Course record with a score of 61 and four of his PGA TOUR wins to date have come in The Golden State. But in the major championships, Homa has not a had single top ten to date. It's likely Homa will be part of the USA Ryder Cup team later this year but validating his talents in a major event is now crucial.

Collin Morikawa has quickly ascended in the pro ranks with two major championship wins and having finished in the top five in the last two U.S. Opens. Is a third different major in the cards this week?

Patrick Cantlay occupies the fourth position in the world rankings but his record in all majors, thus far, is puzzling given his immense talent. Cantlay has no top tens in the U.S. Open in his career and looks to change that after having played the course countless times as a member of the nearby UCLA men's golf team.

Is DJ ready to return to the forefront in a major?

He has only recorded two top tens since finishing T-6 at the 2020 U.S. Open. Now 38 and although Dustin Johnson has played well at times in the LIV events, the issue is does he have the drive to go beyond what's he already achieved to date? This week will say plenty on that front.

US Open - Key questions
(USGA/John Mummert)

Dark horses to watch.

U.S. Opens can produce plenty of drama and the underdog story is always a good one. Players such as Rickie Fowler have been making strides after sliding off the radar screen for quite some time. Others are also possible.

Is Rahm ready?

The Spaniard took a big step forward when claiming The Masters this past April. Then he fell flat on his face at the first round at the PGA Championship with a 76.

Climbing to number one in the world was a big accomplishment but as Rahm has now found remaining there is another thing entirely.

A solid performance this week, after having won the championship at Torrey Pine in the U.S. Open two years ago would show Rahm has the talent to skyrocket even higher.

US Open - Key questions
(USGA/Bill Horstein)

Can Scheffler work the flatstick?

In terms of pure ball striking no one has been better than Scottie.

But when it comes time to max out scores with his putter, he becomes vulnerable to kryptonite in the same manner as Superman.

Scheffler has been the most consistent player this year with two wins and countless high finishes.

The key now is taking his position and reaffirming it with a second major title.

Can Rory change the Story?

With each passing major the same tired questions are tossed at the Northern Irishman. He has not won a major event since 2014 and the burden of that winless streak is beginning to weigh heavily upon him.

Unquestionable talent but inexplicable results.

McIlroy's mission is a simple one -- win and everything about him changes.

Is Viktor set for victory?

Among the most successful and consistent players in the recent majors. Hovland has elevated his game and now seems poised to take it one step forward.

The recent win at The Memorial was truly a positive sign. Now, it's about this week and what a U.S. Open can mean for his climbing career.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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